A beginner's guide to power pop in five essential albums

Segments of cover art from five essential power pop albums
(Image credit: Charisma, Capitol, Apple, Ardent, Capitol)

Ask 100 different people to define power pop and you'll probably get 75 different answers, but if infectious hooks and melodic euphoria are your thing, keep reading. Emerging in the late 1960s and gaining traction throughout the 70s and 80s, power pop blends the crunchy, guitar-driven energy of rock with the polished, radio-friendly sensibilities of pop. 

The Beatles are often cited as the scene's godfathers, producing a genre blueprint with the kind of melodies and harmonies that are the mark of the "proper" songwriter. Bands like Badfinger and Big Star took up the mantle as the 70s rolled into view, crafting songs where guitars jangled, vocals harmonised, and melody was everything. 

The 80s saw bands like Cheap Trick and The Knack bringing the genre to mainstream audiences, and throughout the decades since the genre has endured, from 90s revivalists Jellyfish via old hands like Paul Collins, Weezer and Redd Kross, to modern-day flag bearers such as Thomas Walsh, Young Guv, The Beths and Billy Tibbals. 


Raspberries - Side 3 (Capitol, 1973)

The fuck-you spirit and reckless abandon of mid-60s Who and Small Faces is gloriously echoed in the grooves of the Raspberries’ third album. Yet instead of falling prey to mere mimicry, they transcended such influences and created a slew of swaggering power pop classics.

The Knack - Get The Knack (Capitol, 1979)

Unfairly pegged as Beatle copyists, the worldwide success of The Knack’s 1979 debut helped resuscitate the neglected musical genre. Galvanised by the unbeatable one-two punch of mega hits, My Sharona, which sported power pop’s greatest guitar solo courtesy of Berton Averre plus a winning batch of Who/Kinks inspired ravers, it’s a milestone in power pop history.

The Knack - My Sharona (Official Music Video) - YouTube The Knack - My Sharona (Official Music Video) - YouTube
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Big Star - #1 Record (Ardent, 1972)

A jagged synthesis of British Invasion and Memphis raunch, Big Star’s debut offering sounds like The Byrds on a bad acid trip. In the annals of power pop, the album, marking the sweet fruits of the Chris Bell/Alex Chilton songwriting partnership, is considered the Holy Grail of power pop.

Big Star - The Ballad of El Goodo (Official Lyric Video) - YouTube Big Star - The Ballad of El Goodo (Official Lyric Video) - YouTube
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Badfinger - Straight Up (Apple, 1972)

Featuring production by George Harrison along with fellow power pop icon, Todd Rundgren, Straight Up is the Mona Lisa of power pop, a meticulously crafted, melodic-rock tour-de-force, marked by stellar songwriting, staggering vocals and instrumental virtuosity

Jellyfish - Spilt Milk (Charisma, 1993)

Wildly ambitious, Spilt Milk pressed the proverbial power pop envelope, its intricate arrangements and technicolour production eschewing the pop formalism of touchstones The Beatles and The Who by diving headfirst into Beach Boys/Queen territory. But most crucially, a peek underneath the elaborate window-dressing lay a breathtaking foundation of some of power pop’s most brilliantly realised songs penned by Messrs Andy Sturmer and Roger Manning.

Jellyfish - The Ghost At #1 - YouTube Jellyfish - The Ghost At #1 - YouTube
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Ken Sharp

Ken Sharp is a New York Times Best Selling writer who has authored or co-authored over eighteen music books, contributes to a variety of national music magazines, works on music documentaries and has done liner notes for releases by Elvis Presley, Sly & the Family Stone, Janis Joplin, Small Faces, Santana, Cheap Trick, Raspberries, Eric Carmen, KISS, Hall & Oates, Rick Springfield, The Babys, John Waite, The Guess Who, Jellyfish, Jefferson Airplane and others. He releases power pop albums under his own name and lives in Los Angeles. 

With contributions from